Sunday, June 25, 2006

What am I listening to?

Sometimes people want to know what I listen to. Often I draw a blank, perhaps because Itunes has largely automated my listening process. Fortunately, Itunes also makes it trivial to recover a list of my recent musical selections. For the record (and as a memory aid for the next time somebody asks) here are some artists I've been listening to:

The Rapture
The Bravery
The Bloc Party
Catherine Wheel
Tegan and Sara
The Wolf Parade
The Rakes
The Tragically Hip
The American Analog Set
Al Green
Aimee Mann
Sufjan Stevens
Ben Kweller
The Decemberists
The Arcade Fire
Richard Buckner
The Fruit Bats
Crooked Finger

And Many More

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Whiteboy Trickster Gods -- Or, The Cultural Work of Van Wilder

So, I ended up watching Van Wilder on Comedy Central this afternoon. Its a fairly typical example of the late-nineties early oughts genre of wacky college adventure movies. Grandsons of Animal House, if you will. Same basic premise... happy slackers overcome the unaccountable hatred of their more responsible peers, and in the process win over their women via demonstrating that happy slackers are in touch with a sort of happiness lost to uptight overachievers in their quest for square accomplishment.

PCU would be another exemplar of the genre... and there were others... their names currently escape me.

The universe presented by such movies is interesting on a number of levels. It presents an interesting sort of utopian fantasy environment... a place where a variety of difficult questions need not be resolved. An ethnically diverse place, but one lacking any acknowledgement of the history of racism and the politics of racial oppression. A place in which women are simultaneously presented as accessible sexual objects and as independent, career minded people.

But I think an even more difficult question is being dodged.

See, the character of Van Wilder, like other characters within his genre, is a sort of "whiteboy trickster god" a beautiful, charming, member of the white upper class who has chosen to revel in the material culture of late capitalism and share its bounty with his equally beautiful multi-ethnic friends, rather than become a part of his father's class of uptight oppressor-types who make everything such a drag. Van Wilder's rival, equally ubiquitous throughout the genre, is an aspiring member of this uptight oppressor class, whom Van Wilder defeats through his wit, and the help of his uniformly capable, happy friends.

As a mythology it seems to value rebellion and happiness over obedience and accumulation... which is probably why I find such movies so attractive. But it elides something important.

The material ease that nurtures us whiteboy trickster gods was built by the uptight oppressor class. Its continuation is dependent on their continued extraction from time and the bodies of the opressed "ever more useful forces" of production. If there is to be real change we will be asked to make to make a more difficult choice than simply that of walking away from the role of uptight oppressor. If we want to realize a just world, one in which chinese workers are not slaves to machines for 15 hours a day to build our hip, rebellious ipods we will have to think critically about our own comfort. And that won't necessarily be fun.